Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Madres paralelas


Freelance photographer Janis Martínez Moreno (Penélope Cruz) mixes business with pleasure and gets knocked up after an intimate night with her client Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a forensic archaeologist who promises to oversee the excavation of her great grandfather’s mass grave who was killed in the civil war. Nine months later, she is ready to give birth and shares a hospital room with Ana Manso Ferreras (Milena Smit), a teenage mother who is a victim of rape. The two unexpected moms to be give birth at the same time: one with great anticipation; the other with trepidation. As they hold their respective daughters in their arms, feelings begin to change. Trouble ensues when Arturo sees the child for the first time and insinuates that she does not appear to be his. Out of curiosity, Janis conducts a maternity test and gets the shock of her life when the results come back negative.

The lesbian angle caught me off-guard, even though there are plenty of hints here and there and the sexual tension between the two women is so thick you can cut it with a knife. At first, I thought it was gimmicky and somehow pushing an agenda but when viewed with the grander scope of the storyline in mind, it is actually a clever twist that gives the title an entirely different meaning altogether. In any case, this is just one of the several subplots dismissed as soon as it is introduced.

As for the baby switcheroo storyline, it comes across as off-putting at first, maybe because I hail from a country where such a plot device has been abused over and over again in various soap operas that by now it just feels like lazy writing, to be honest. In this film, however, the use of the subplot is forgivable given how Almodóvar brilliantly plays around with it and uses it as the primary driving force for character development for Janis and Ana as well as pushing the envelope of Cruz’s and Smit’s acting potential. In the end, it all pays off as Cruz edges out Lady Gaga for her fourth Academy Award nomination.

And then we have the desaparecidos subplot, which seems totally unrelated to the central theme of motherhood being tackled in the film but concludes the narrative with a KO punch anyway. The issue of Janis’ heritage has always been alluded to throughout the film’s run and ending the story there does not just give a closure to her story arc but also gives the viewer a powerful reminder of the role history plays in our lives as human beings. Only Almodóvar can pull off something like this that makes you want to scratch your head at times yet leaves you with a lot of emotions as you leave the cinema anyway.

As for acting, Cruz and Smit share the spotlight and it is a good thing that the latter does not allow the former to eclipse her in any way. Cruz has long been Almodóvar’s muse, and you just feel that invisible chemistry between actress and director. It’s haunting like that. As far as her Oscar chances are concerned, her pulling an upset is rather unlikely, so perhaps we can say that the nomination is already the win. Between this and Volver, that role of hers that introduced her to the Academy as more than just the foreigner with the sexy Spanish accent is far superior and more awards circuit bait material.

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